The regime that the Libyan leader Muar mar Ghadafi was bent to tear-down by allegedly sponsoring a bloody rebel attack is no longer in power. But the leader of the rebel group that inflicted the greatest massacre in Gambian history is reportedly renewing plans to oust the current regime that is enjoying a warming relations with his master, Ghadafi. Who is behind him now? Kissykissymansa quizzes
Memories, it is said, are too short. But The Gambia’s former president Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s octogenarian memory isn’t short enough to forget the failed attempt on the life of his regime, three decades ago.
The rebels had almost succeeded. Infact, they had a three-day hold on to power; seized and controlled the State House, asserted their authority and announced a suspension of the constitution and dissolution of the parliament before they were flushed-out by the Senegalese troops.
A veterinary surgeon by profession, Jawara, now 87, had led The Gambia to independence in 1965. He became the first president when the country attained a republican status in 1970.
Yet, self-government had its many challenges. Years of colonial neglect left The Gambia with two state-owned hospitals and high schools, poor infrastructure, small ill-equipped civil service, a mono-crop export sector and poor social services.
With limited natural resources, Dawda K Jawara and his cabinet sought to build a nation and develop an economy to sustain both farmers and urban dwellers.
To a reasonable degree of satisfaction, his regime succeeded in lifting up a nation that was deemed improbable. Sound economic policies and the envious political stability which were anchored on social justice and democracy are worthy of acknowledgement.
Although at independence, Jawara had in very clear terms told Gambians that, “Independence doesn’t mean our groundnuts would be transformed in diamonds,” nonetheless, many Gambians, like citizens of other newly independent countries had hoped the political independence would immediately changed their economic status.
They had their high expectations broken-down. In time, a measure of disappointment set in as the people quickly discovered that independence cannot deliver them all what they aspired to have.
Certainly, one of the main reasons why The Gambia belatedly experienced the bitter taste of rebellion was because of the maximum freedom accorded to and tolerance exercised by the regime.
The greatest shock to Sir Dawda came on July 30, 1981. Rebels and their civilian and military allies brutally expressed their desire for change. They demanded an end of PPP hegemony. Deteriorating economy and growing social inequalities cannot, as well, cannot be discounted.
But the coup was aborted. Jawara survived it. 13 years later – July 1994 - his regime was murdered.
He went into exile in UK, but was amnestied and returned home in 2002. He has now retired as an elder statesman. Except for the company of Crispy, a pet cat, Jawara has taken pleasure in writing.
When The Gambia News & Report, a weekly magazine medaled him its prestigious annual award, ‘Person of the Year 2010,’ following the publication of his autobiography last year, he talks to the magazine (but also in attendance was my humble self) on a range of issues.
The coup assault of July 30 1981 has sent shivers down the spines. As the local saying goes, ‘Bee le mu asaato ka deeya,’ meaning one can narrate ordeal now at ease, not when it was being heated. Many among those who witnessed it wouldn’t like to remember the events. But it could not be erased from our history books, not even in their memories. Stories abound, both humorous and bitter ones.
For the man at the helm of affairs then, the first shot of the events of 30 July 1981 was actually fired on 27 October 1980. A junior member of the paramilitary Field Force, Mustapha Danso shot-dead the deputy Field Force Commander, Eku Mahoney.
“The cold-blooded murder was uncommon in our criminal record books,” Jawara explains in his autobiography, Kairaba. “The shooting of a field force commander was shocking and there was an air of apprehension in the country.”
Wary of an attack, The Gambia invoked the 1965 Defence Agreement with Senegal, who unhesitated to send troops to assist in the case of any eventuality. For in the period leading up to Eku murder, anti graffiti anti-government had been written on some walls in Banjul, preaching revolution.
“At all events, Operation Foday Kabaa 1 went into full gear and Senegalese paratroopers, replete with helicopters air cover, arrived as an extra security measure. Eku’s funeral service at the Wesley passed off without incident,” Jawara says.
Danso was found guilty of murder, a crime that invites death penalty. Nine months into his waiting on death row, Danso was set free from jail by the rebels and went on a rampage murdering innocent civilians. When caught, again, during the event of 1981 he faced the firing squad on 30 September. He became the first and up until today, the only executed death-row convict, albeit currently, there are over 20 awaiting execution.
The coup assault was waged by Supreme Council for Revolution led by an ex-politician turned Marxist, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. For some people Kukoi is a revolutionary and the action was a revolution. But for Jawara, the Supreme Council for Revolution was made up of nonentities and its leader, Kukoi, was mad and neurotic. His findings show that Kukoi was a (then) opposition NCP candidate for Eastern Foni in 1977, but woefully lost to his party, PPP’s candidate.
“He thus updated his as a failed teacher, a failed seminarian and unsuccessful politician and now a [failed] coup plotter…” Jawara says.
Meanwhile, when the action began, the rebels had broken into the armory at the field of depot in Bakau seizing arms and went on freeing and arming prisoners at Mile 2 to strengthen their numbers.
Ten members of Jawara’s family – eight children, including one five and one month old babies and his wife Chilel – were seized and put at gun point and forced to plead with him to give-in.
“All Jawara’s children are here,” Jawara remembers the exact words of Kukoi, spoken some three decades ago. “His wife is here and I shall kill the whole lot …. I have no children and I am prepared to die.
This whole affair did not found Jawara here in Banjul. After attending the OAU (now AU) Assembly of heads of state in Kenya, Nairobi in June, Sir Dawda and wife Njaimeh proceeded to London for his annual leave in his home in Birchen Lane.
“Britain was in the grip of royal wedding fever. Prince Charles was marrying Diana on Wednesday July 29. We immersed ourselves in the sight and sounds, glamour and pageantry fairytale wedding,” he says.
His enjoyment was cut short as the next day he was playing Golf when he was interrupted with the news of a coup back home.
“We tried unsuccessfully to get through Banjul,” he says. “Finally about midday on Friday 31 July I spoke to vice president Assan Musa Camara. “He [Assan] said he was preparing for the day’s work ahead when he heard the shrill and agitated voice of a man on the radio denouncing the Jawara regime and announcing the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of parliament and arrest and detention of all government ministers.
While in UK, Jawara formalized request for assistance from Senegal under the Mutual Defence Agreement. And closed to mid night of 31 July, three hundred Senegalese airborne paratroopers dropped over and headed to Yundum airport, destroying rebel positions after a stiff fighting, he added.
Britain assisted by dispatching two Special Air Service (SAS) - a major and a Sergeant, who would later free his family from the rebels, unharmed.
Jawara flew from UK via Dakar to The Gambia, arriving on Sunday 2 August. He moved to State House on 3 August by which time the Senegalese had taken control.
“What was of great relief to me what SAS successfully freed Chilel and my other children whilst Senegalese freed the rest of my children and scores of other hostages,” he confessed.
Kukoi fled in August 2 with some of his men. Business resumed, but slowly. Even at the cabinet as some senior members were late to report on work.
Hundreds were tried for their alleged actions. These included main opposition leader Sheriff Dibba, but he was found innocent.
About 500 to 800 of Gambian blood were shed. Thirty Senegalese troops have been killed. Materials destroyed.
All this, according to Jawara was the making of the Libyan leader Muar Mar Ghadafi. Sir Dawda could not figure out why, but one thing, he said, is certain was his government had severed ties with Libya after realizing that Libya was recruiting some Gambians and citizens of other countries in the sub-region for subversions.
He reveals that before he took off for the OAU summit in Kenya, Libya had rushed in request to have a secret meeting in Nairobi, about restoring diplomatic links, but he turned it down. “Any questions they had could be asked in Banjul using normal diplomatic channels,” Sir Dawda insists.
Jawara was not the first to accuse Ghadafi. In addition to creating a hell on earth conditions for African citizens in Libya, Ghadafi came under numerous allegations of subversion across Africa. Even the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe admitted dreaming of Ghadafi attempting on his life.
If it is true that Kukoi’s master is Ghadafi, could it be the same Ghadafi who is still sponsoring him; for intelligence report leaked to The Daily Observer recently suggests that Kukoi is planning another assault on The Gambia? Many would say no to this question. Gambia and Libya are in good terms. Ghadafi and Jammeh have entered into brotherly relations.
However, according to Sir Dawda, in diplomacy one shakes hand and smile with an enemy. “These are not personal enemies,” he said, “But of something else.”